Monday, October 6, 2008

The Unity Kollel - Let's do it in Israel

I'm going to ramble here a bit, as I continue to not write my Yom Kippur derashah. The fact that right after Yom Kippur we have a Bar Mitzvah here, followed by Succos, followed by Shabbos Chol haMoed, followed by Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah, is, oddly enough, not helping me concentrate on work...

My friend Alan Krinsky posted an essay on his Achrayus blog this past July proposing, among other things, a Unity Kollel, which he described as “centers of Jewish education and outreach consciously designed to include members from different Hashkafos.”

Alan continued to say, “Imagine if we created a kollel, and learning and teaching together we could find, just for example, a YU graduate, a Ner Yisrael grad, someone from a Chasidic group, and an individual from an explicitly Religious Zionist institution? Imagine the dynamic learning that would go on in such a kollel, and the effect such a group would have in outreach to the community!”

It’s a fascinating concept, albeit a non-starter. It’s a non-starter because the core members of some of those groups actually believe that the core members of some of the other groups are fundamentally and irredeemably wrong, on a level such that it would be a halachic violation to support, or in any way endorse, each other’s existence and appeal.

I'm not a pessimist; it's just that, L’havdil, this endeavor would be like asking Roman Catholic priests to study in equal partnership with Episcopalian priests; the idea would be anathema to them.

Of course, each group has members who are more tolerant and less certain of their own monopoly on truth, but those individuals don’t truly represent the group. The hardcore ideology of each group is exclusive of the others – and, again, on an halachic level.

Now, since Yom Kippur is coming up, someone may well protest that at Kol Nidrei we say, “אנו מתירין להתפלל עם העבריינים,” explicitly saying we will pray with the sinners? Surely, then, we could learn with them!

But this argument would be incorrect, on two levels:
First, that line is not really meant to welcome sinners. Rather, it’s meant to welcome in people who had been excommunicated by the community, and it’s contingent upon their having “seen the light” and repented.
Second, that’s a Yom Kippur tefillah in which the ausvorfen (oisvorfen? my yiddish is terrible) are explicitly labelled as sinners; that’s not the same thing as creating a joint beis medrash in which all will participate equally. If anything, use of the “sinners” label actually proves my point.

To return to the Unity Kollel, though: I’m not sure it’s necessary.

If our goal is, as Alan writes, Unity and an end to baseless hatred, perhaps we could try, instead, for a Unity supermarket. Or a Unity office building. Or a Unity city. A New Square planned with different groups living together in the same metropolitan area. Some space in which the different groups interact and, hopefully, learn to like each other.

Oh, wait. I think that exists. It’s Yerushalayim, right?

So perhaps the answer is for all of us to make aliyah, and work on developing our Unity City (or Unity Cities) there…

PS According to legend, the beit midrash of Yeshivat Kerem b’Yavneh was, originally, to be a “Unity Kollel” beit midrash. As I heard it when I was in yeshiva there, the beit midrash and campus were designed with various corners to encourage each of the European yeshivos to come set up shop in the beit midrash there, in its own niche. Can anyone confirm that legend?


  1. "So perhaps the answer is for all of us to make aliyah, and work on developing our Unity City (or Unity Cities) there…"

    I'll drink to that!
    Gmar chatima tova!

  2. Risa-
    As will I (bli neder), on the day I arrive!

  3. I think the point of things like these is not that you will get people from the extremes to learn together, but that you will create more of a spectrum, where each group is connected to the ones more similar to it, rather than being distinct groups.

    You will never get the YCT guys to learn together with the Satmars, but you can get YCT friendly with YU, and YU friendly with Lakewood, and Lakewood friendly with Satmar. That way we're all "a friend of a friend" and not utter strangers. (BTW, "out of town", this is acheived much more. There are still people on the left and people on the right, but the community is not big enough to make subcommunities for every different flavor, and you (nebach!) have no choice but to interact with others different from you.

  4. The legend I heard was that the Beit Medrash was built to house the Sanhedrin that would of course be founded, since after all, Moshiach was coming, and the first place (or one of the first places?) the Sanhedrin is supposed to be is Yavneh.

    In any case, KBY does kinda serve as the unity BM, albeit in the sense I described as a bridge between factions, rather than in the more formal sense you were talking about.

  5. Michael-
    I definitely see that this would be of benefit, yes.
    Were we at KBY at the same time? Your name is familiar.

  6. I had to laugh when I saw the kinds of disparate groups he (and you) were listing as of different hashkafos. Here I was, thinking he would propose OJs studying with Conservatives or Reconstructionists... to most of the Jews I know, the groups he named are indistinguishable.

  7. Hi Tzipporah,

    Yes, I was thinking the same thing when I wrote the post. I know what you mean.